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Zumberge Murder Case Comes To A Sudden Close

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Both sides have rested in the case of a New Brighton woman charged with aiding her husband in the killing of a neighbor.

Paula Zumberge, 50, and her husband, Neal, 57, were expected to take the stand on Wednesday when her defense attorneys began presenting their case. But after two days of prosecution witnesses and testimony, defense attorney Gary Wolf felt strongly that the state hadn’t proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

With Paula Zumberge in agreement, she waived her right to testify in her own defense. Also, by putting her on the stand, Judge Leslie Marek would then have to weigh the credibility of Zumberge against that of prosecution’s main witnesses, Jennifer Cleven.

In deciding the state’s burden of proof hadn’t been met, Paula Zumberge’s attorneys decided to rest their case without presenting any further evidence.

That is largely because the credibility of statements made by Cleven was already in question and at odds with what others had testified to.

When Todd Stevens and Cleven were shot outside their New Brighton home last spring, there was little doubt who did it. They were in a long-running feud over deer feeding with the Zumberges, neighbors who lived directly across the street.

That disagreement boiled over on May 5, when Neal Zumberge allegedly fired four rounds of buckshot from a 12-guage shotgun, striking and killing 46-year-old Stevens and wounding 48-year-old Cleven.

In her closing arguments on Wednesday, Ramsey County prosecutor Anna Christie said Neal and Paula Zumberge “were in it together” and made their neighbors’ lives “a living hell.”

Paula Zumberge is charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree assault.

Christie added that “she (Paula) was a knowing and acting participant and is just as guilty as her husband in this horrific crime.”

Outside the courthouse after closing arguments, Paula Zumberge’s attorney told reporters, “We didn’t put on a case, we didn’t feel it was necessary.”

Wolf said he and his team were prepared to present a case and call Paula and Neal Zumberge to the stand. They had issued some 30 subpoenas to other potential witnesses.

But after the state’s witnesses testified, including first responders, police investigators and five neighbors, they determined that none of them could corroborate what Cleven said happened during the fatal altercation.

Cleven changed her recollection of the events, including what was said by Paula Zumberge. She told investigators that Paula was yelling to her husband during a brief pause in his gunfire, saying: “Shoot, shoot, keep shooting.”

But according to their testimony, Wolf points out, “there were five neighbors who were in a position to hear things, heard other things – they never heard that.”

What they did hear was a rapid succession of gunshots with only a brief pause between the four rounds. That’s in sharp contrast to what Cleven testified to. She told the judge there was one shot followed by a five or 10 second pause, then three more shots.

It’s that pause where she claims she heard Paula Zumberge shouting “keep shooting” to her husband.

In closing, the prosecutor said those words were just one part of the case. Other evidence suggests that Paula Zumberge knew what was going to happen and did nothing to stop it.

Now it’s up to the judge to weigh all the contributing facts in the case and render a decision in about a week.

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